The State House in Augusta is seen in this May 6, 2020, file photo. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature’s budget committee will be hearing public testimony about bond proposals, including Gov. Janet Mills$140 million transportation and conservation package. Follow along at 10 a.m. here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Thank you for asking your community to support food insecurity initiatives in Waldo County,” said a supporter of Erin French, owner of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, whose fundraiser tying donations to her unique postcard reservation system raised $100,000 overnight for a local anti-hunger group. “The instability of the last year has taught us all how fragile and tenuous our sense of stability can be.”

What we’re watching today

A series of Republican-backed bills related to looking to restrict abortion will get hearings on Tuesday in a Legislature that is likely to turn them away. Attempts to restrict abortion access are a perennial topic in the Maine Legislature and other bodies across the country, but they are out in force nationally this year, with the pro-abortion rights Planned Parenthood reporting more than 500 bills related to the issue introduced in the country this year. That’s compared to 300 in 2019.

The bills range from attempting to repeal a 2019 law that expanded abortion coverage under Maine’s Medicaid program for the first time in decades, requiring health care providers to give ultrasounds to a person considering an abortion at least 48 hours before having one and informing patients that the abortion pill can be potentially reversed if stopped halfway. The latter practice was being studied in 2019, but the study ended after a quarter of the women involved in it developed severe bleeding after receiving progesterone, a hormone.

The effort is destined to fail in the Democratic-led State House. But they have been successful elsewhere — the Guttmacher Institute found 61 restrictions have passed in 13 states — and show lawmakers may be emboldened by a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

The hearings come, coincidentally, a day after the country’s high court took up a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. The court said Monday that it would review a Mississippi law that banned abortion in all cases after 15 weeks of gestation, with narrow exceptions related to severe medical complications. Lower courts blocked the bill from going into law, saying it conflicted with the landmark 1973 decision that ensured women the right to an abortion prior to fetal viability.

The court will hear the case later this year with a ruling expected in the spring of 2022. A reversal of Roe would not have an immediate impact on abortion laws in Maine, where a women’s right to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability is enshrined in state law. But such a ruling would likely empower activists who oppose abortion rights to pursue more stringent restrictions here, either through the Legislature, referendums or the judicial system.  

Discussion of the case in Maine will be framed by the state’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, where reproductive rights advocates criticized U.S. Sen. Susan Collins for her votes to confirm Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, saying they would lead the court to overturn Roe. Collins, who has stood out in her career as a Republican generally supportive of abortion rights, countered that Roe was “settled law.”

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine lawmakers far from budget deal with a short window to make one,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “While [Gov. Janet] Mills has outlined her plan to spend [$1.1 billion in] federal money, the U.S. Treasury only released long-awaited guidelines on it last week. The state says it is preparing a bill, but lawmakers do not know when to expect it. All of it sets up a tight window for a deal as Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on borrowing and tax relief.

— “Maine loosens COVID-19 safety protocols at schools adopting new testing plan,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The latest move from the Maine Department of Education loosens several key restrictions for schools that participate in Maine’s pooled testing program. The changes provide insight into how the state may plan to keep COVID-19 under control while returning to full time in-person learning if young children are still not eligible for vaccines next fall.”

The University of Maine System is likely to raise tuition across its eight campuses. Chancellor Dannel Malloy pointed to increasing staff salaries as well as increased costs and decreased revenue associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the state’s flagship university in Orono, in-state students enrolled full time are expected to pay about $550 more per year.

— “Affidavit: After police told Penobscot County treasurer to stop harassing woman, he sent her 109 messages over 2 days,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “On Sunday, [John] Hiatt issued a statement in which he vowed to fight the charges but did not specifically speak to the allegations on the advice of his lawyer. He also said that he would continue to serve as county treasurer and on the school committee and seek reelection next year to both offices.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...